Man sits on couch contemplating about things he can't or shouldn't do.

Guilt. It's a Package Deal with RA

Guilt. It goes hand in hand with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and, really, all chronic illnesses. Why?

It’s not like we asked the universe to please give us a nondescript illness that is difficult to diagnose, has medicines with varying degrees of efficacy, makes you wonder what new horror each day will bring, and drives the people closest to you away.

Or maybe you’re some sort of sadist and you did ask for it and got exactly what you wanted – either way, guilt shouldn’t be part of the equation.

Guilt is a part of chronic illness

Now, I’m sure that it comes as no surprise to anyone with RA or any chronic illness that the disease comes with guilt as a package deal, and not one of those Black Friday "get a TV, Blu-Ray player, and 7 movies for a dollar" type deals.

No, this deal is more like the "deals" you get at the car dealership when all you want is a freakin’ sunroof but in order to get it, you have to buy the "sport package" with the 18-inch wheels and chrome spoiler. On a VW Beetle.

Yeah, no one wants all that extra garbage but unfortunately, it comes anyway, just like guilt. Guilt is the ugly chrome spoiler that comes with your brand new 2021 model rheumatoid arthritis.

Feeling guilty in a variety of scenarios

Why am I talking about guilt? Well, it’s because lately, I’ve been feeling it. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t want it. Heck, I didn’t even expect it – it just happened.

It reared its ugly head when I had to refuse a request for help from a friend. It happened again when I told another person whom I’ve known for years that I’d do a thing and then got too busy with heart stuff to do that thing. And when they asked about the thing, I felt guilt. Get it?

It even happened when I had to reschedule a doctor’s appointment. A doctor’s appointment for God’s sake! I felt guilty that I might be messing up the doctor’s day because of the illness I see him to treat!

It’s bonkers, I know. But, it just happens and then you have it, there, in your lap, like a James Bond villain’s white cat, and there’s nothing you can do but feel it. The guilt. Not the cat.

Where do feelings of guilt come from?

Chronic illness and especially rheumatoid arthritis have the same relationship to schedules as politicians have to the truth. Even when they keep to it, you’re really just waiting for them to screw it up - which you know will happen eventually.

Rheumatoid arthritis makes you reschedule, miss events at the last minute, decline friends and family’s invitations even though you don’t want to, and make impossible decisions like, "Do I stay out and go to dinner with everyone or go home and not hurt for the next 3 days?"

It’s all part of the wonderful world of living with chronic illness and it is those type of things that generate that low hum of guilt that is always in the background like someone plugged a hairdryer into the same outlet as your stereo.

These feelings eat at you

That guilt eats at you. Guilt for not getting up at 9 am every day because your grandma told you that that is what good hard workers do.

Guilt at having to bail on your career every time you finally get ahead of steam going.

Guilt at not being able to maintain a successful marriage (even though it totally wasn’t your fault because you married a… never mind!)

Guilt at all of those things piles up and it doesn’t help when you go on Instagram or Facebook and see all the huge-mega successes and supermodel-looking families that seemingly everyone you know has except you.

Sure, you know that the picture was cropped so that the puke-covered kitchen table and the cousin who wears only jeans shorts he made himself to every family function is cut out, but that offers little comfort.

Certain compliments make these feelings worse

In addition, those of us who are chronically ill and disabled frequently serve as inspiration porn for many, who say charming things like, “You are my hero,” and “I don’t know how you do it,” and “You are so strong!”

Well, as strong and as handsome as we are, those types of “compliments” only make the guilt that much worse when we do have to step aside to allow our illnesses to take control for a while.

For many years I felt guilty because I thought I had to be the “rock” that everyone thought I was and if I showed even a hint of weakness, then the entire façade that had been constructed for me would shatter to pieces.

Yeah, folks, it runs that deep sometimes.

Don't feel guilt for making yourself a priority

Guilt. Feeling guilty. It is as much a part of rheumatoid arthritis and chronic illness as fatigue, refilling prescriptions, or finding comfortable shoes that don’t hurt your feet.

It comes and goes (mostly comes), and you have to push forward despite it. Sometimes we hurt ourselves in the process, and every now and then we even let it make us do things we normally wouldn’t - like trying to help a friend build a shed when you know damn well that you can’t build a shed… err… or something like that. I mean. Maybe.

The point is that guilt, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic illness, in general, will never be sold separately. So what do we do?

We just have to keep telling ourselves that our illness is not our fault and taking care of ourselves first is nothing to be ashamed of. That and if you agree to build a shed for a friend, watch a YouTube video first. Talk soon.

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